Jumping the gun a bit (because I’m excited), tomorrow is a day of day of celebration in for many things: for the greater pagan community, Imbolc and the commemoration of Bride (or Brigid); but for Christians and Gnostics we commemorate an important day, the commemoration the presentation of the Christ in the temple.
The Feast of the Presentation also called Hypapante (Greek, “meeting”) or, more commonly Candlemas, is considered to be one of the Twelve Great Feasts and is celebrated by Christians world-wide in commemoration of the gospel account of Mary and Joseph’s presentation of Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem to complete Mary’s ritual purification forty days after giving birth in obedience to the Law of Moses. By most accounts, the Feast of the Presentation is among the most ancient feasts of the Church and is held in particularly high regard amongst Eastern Christians for being one of the combined feasts of Mary and Jesus – the “Light of the World” who, for the first time in his life, enters into the Temple of Jerusalem symbolically, perhaps, of the Light of God being inflamed in the Temple for all and The All to behold.
In the contemporary Gnostic lectionary, the intent for this feast centers on the “Kindling of the Light in Darkness” as explicitly mentioned in the gospel lesson from the Gospel of Thomas: “Within a man of light there is light and he lights the whole world. When he does not shine, there is darkness.” In the Gospel of Luke which is traditionally read on this date in the outer Church, after Mary and Joseph had made their temple offerings, Mary is approached by a pious man named Simeon who is described in the account as being, “righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel: [with] the Holy Spirit upon him” (Luke 2:25) who, upon beholding the infant Jesus prophecies to Mary: “Behold, this child is set for the falling and the rising of many in Israel; and for a sign which is spoken against; yea and a sword shall pierce through thine own soul; that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35).
Between the different sets of readings, the lessons from the Gnostic lectionary are a bit more comforting perhaps and less morose than the experience of a new mother being approached by a holy man saying: “Your kid is finally going to show everyone the light of God, probably die a nasty death, and you’re going to experience some trauma – but it’s okay, since it’s all for the better.” In many respects it’s much easier to focus on the contemplative and intentional cultivation of the Sacred Flame within us but, as we see here, it is because of that same type of cultivation that the prophet Simeon was able to sustain himself on the single hope in seeing the Lord. The light which Simeon beheld that day was also the same Sacred Flame that Mary had lovingly and patiently carried within her womb for nine months, gave birth to during one of the darkest nights of the year and, forty days later, presented openly into the world after purifying herself.
Cultivation of the Sacred Flame is something that takes much effort, but when dutifully attended, yields much joy. From the Gospel of Luke we can conjecture that the prophet Simeon himself spend many hours in prayer and supplication and participated regularly in the ritual functions of the Temple. The prophetess, Anna, who is also mentioned in this account, seems to have never left the Temple precinct following her being widowed – a tragic experience for a woman in first century Israel – by her husband some many years earlier. In the case of Simeon, prior to encountering Christ, his experience could be considered something of a “Dark Night of the Soul” looking for the consolation of Israel. Both become inflamed with ecstasy (Gk. ekstasis) by their experiences of “seeing the Light” and prophecy their respective good news which included the foreshadowing Mary would experience herself during the passion of Jesus.
Mary’s position in this is equally one of joy in gaining a brief, illuminative moment affirming the role her son would play in the world as well as a shocking revelation of the suffering she herself would experience in the role of her son’s life. At the time of this event Mary would have still been a very young woman, not even out of adolescence, and to hear such a short time after giving birth that her son’s life was already set, essentially, as a tile for “falling” in a huge domino configuration of events that would tragically pierce through her own soul must have been a very terrifying prospect. As any of us who have attempted to embark on any serious endeavor know, sometimes the fear of failure is enough to make us think twice about doing what we have to do. Yet, through the foresight granted, Mary was able to make the preparations needed within her and for her child to ensure that his mission would fulfill the prophecy of success foretold by Simeon.
The candles which are blessed on this day not only serve to remind us to enkindle and nourish the Sacred Flame within us, but to encourage us to be living examples of that same faith, generosity and love exemplified by Simeon, Anna and Mary in our willingness to share that Sacred Flame with all the world in spite of the difficulties which we know will invariably arise in our course as we seek to go forth into the dark and uncertain territories that we will eventually have to walk through ourselves on the path. With the foreknowledge we have been given through scripture, life experience and prayer, we will find greater light even in dark and confusing situations. As our perceptions are purified by these experiences, and illuminated by understanding, we will be better equipped to handle these rough spots and enlighten others – whomever we meet – along their own paths.